Allegra Gast had 6,000 Instagram followers in June; now she has more than 31,000 followers – and counting – devouring her postpartum nutrition and breastfeeding advice.
The Fort Walton Beach, Florida, resident and military spouse started her Instagram account, @aloha.nutrition, while she and her husband were stationed in Hawaii. She was working at Women, Infants, and Children and started posting maternal nutrition tips in her downtime.
After leaving Hawaii, Gast became an international board-certified lactation consultant and launched her private practice. Her husband, Joshua, has been stationed in Florida for two years.
"As a lactation consultant, I help moms with breastfeeding issues – whether that's helping them with latching, painful nipples, increasing their supply, decreasing their supply if they have an oversupply," Gast said. "I help them with coming up with a plan for their return to work. I go over bottles, bottle refusal, breast refusal, induced lactation – anything that pertains to breastfeeding. I'm kind of like the boob doctor, as they call it."
Gast offers virtual one-on-one consults, home visits and a workshop every two months about how parents can optimise their baby's nutrition at six months. She will also launch the Postpartum Approach Course about postpartum nutrition in November.
"It takes moms from A to Z; why nutrition is important, how to create healthy meals with a newborn, how to recover from birth with nutrition," Gast said.
Gast was helping mothers for three years before her passion for it truly resonated.
Audrey, her now 18-month-old daughter, was responsible.
She first met Joshua at a wedding when they walked down the aisle together as a groomsmen and bridesmaid. When he was stationed in Hawaii, Gast moved to be with him. They spent four "magical and wonderful" years there, got married, moved to Florida and welcomed Audrey to their family at Fort Walton Beach Medical Center.
"I was passionate about it, but then after I had mine and really got to experience it firsthand, I was like, 'Wow this is hard. I am tired. I am having a hard time with breastfeeding, '" Gast said. "Even myself, as a lactation consultant, we still have our learning curves. It gave me a whole new appreciation of motherhood – especially as a military spouse. My husband is on deployment. He works 12-hour shifts. He works night shifts. Sometimes I feel like a single mom."
Gast's experience with breastfeeding wasn't easy. Audrey had a posterior tongue-tie, a birth condition in which a baby's tongue has limited range of motion.
"She was also induced, so she had a lot of tension, so every time she would latch on, she would bite me," Gast said. "I almost got cracked nipples, but being a lactation specialist, I knew what to do to prevent that. It was very painful. I got vasospasm, which is where they clamp down so hard it prevents blood flow to the nipples."
After her own experience, Gast not only knows pregnancy and motherhood is hard, but exactly how hard it is.
"Going through it firsthand has really given me a new perspective and a greater passion for helping other moms in the same boat," she said.
She now uses her Instagram account to spread knowledge about the breastfeeding process and common issues.
"I really try to break it down and put it into bite-sized content moms can take," Gast said.
She is also a registered dietician who studied nutrition and food science at Drexel University in Philadelphia. She also helps women with maternal nutrition.
"I really believe food is medicine and food is fuel," Gast said. "The right type of food is fuel and will give you that sustainable energy to be a mom and be a better version of yourself. There's also a lot of studies showing how maternal nutrition lessens postpartum depression. I really try to do a lot of nutrition education with my moms. I know it's hard to create healthy meals. I really try to teach moms kitchen hacks, how to cook with a newborn or toddler and how to make healthy meals with a newborn or toddlers."
Being a mom
Not everything a breastfeeding mother eats will affect her baby.
That is one of the biggest misconceptions about breastfeeding, Gast said. And many women are quick to cut out foods in response.
"Breast milk is made from the bloodstream; it's not made from mom's digestive tract," Gast said. "If mom is eating gassy foods; it doesn't necessarily mean that those gassy components are going to her bloodstream, therefore her breast milk."
A baby's digestive issues can be caused by many other factors than the mother's diet.
"A lot of times it's how birth was, how they labored – if they were stuck in the pelvic canal, if they had their umbilical cord wrapped around them, if mom had a long labor or a very short labor," Gast said. "A lot of times babies are not getting enough movement nowadays. They go from the car seat to the swing to the Dockatot to being swaddled. They need that movement to help pass gas."
Another possible reason babies have digestive issues is because they have an improper latch and are swallowing a lot of air, she said. A latch refers to how the baby fastens onto the breast.
"I take a thorough history and really assess breastfeeding, and so many of my moms I help introduce all these new foods in addition to doing what I teach them, like ensuring that deep latch and getting at least an hour or a day of tummy time and things significantly improve," Gast said. "Their baby is so much happier. And mom is happier because now she can start nourishing herself."
Gast helps mothers feel good overall, she said. She is also a postpartum doula who helps with everything from preparing meals to laundry to breastfeeding observation.
"Being a mom can be very exhausting, and a lot of times it's because they're forgetting to eat or because breastfeeding causes them to crave carbs all day, every day," Gast said. "I go over how to create balanced meals so they don't crave carbs all day, every day, and how to regain their energy when their baby is waking up every couple hours."
There is another common misconception she is determined to debunk on Instagram.
"After you have your baby, you go through an engorgement and your breasts start making a lot of milk," Gast said. "Over time, your breasts soften and your breasts regulate to how much baby takes. Moms take this as their milk supply decreasing. Soft breasts don't mean that you don't have milk; it just means your body has figured out how much your baby needs. I did an (Instagram) reel where I was like, 'My breasts feel soft, I must not have milk, ' but then I was like, 'But, no, baby is gaining weight. Baby is content. Baby is having swallows. OK, I must be making milk.' "
One of Gast's most popular Instagram reels – the one that launched her thousands of followers – was about how drinking alcohol pertains to breast milk.
"Since breast milk is made from your bloodstream, alcohol leaves your bloodstream – if you have one standard glass – about one to two hours after consumption," Gast said. "The recommendation from doctors, health care professionals and research, is to breastfeed your baby, have your drink and by the time your baby is hungry again after two to three hours, the alcohol should be out of your system. You don't need to pump and dump."
It hit 1.6 million views. But it did garner much flack, she said.
"I didn't take it to heart," Gast said. "I know so many doctors say the same things. Midwives say the same things."
While responding to more than 50 direct messages a day can be overwhelming, Gast is glad her virtual presence is growing. As a military spouse, she could relocate at any time and lose her in-person clientele.
"Covid hit, and everything really pushed virtually and insurance companies started covering virtual consults," Gast said. "My business escalated this past year. My Instagram following just grew like crazy after I posted a couple of reels. I'm averaging 1,000 followers a day, which, to me, is crazy." – Northwest Florida Daily News/Tribune News Service
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